Those from the Commonwealth of Kentucky are likely familiar with William J. Goebel, the Kentucky Governor who was assassinated a day before being sworn into office. This article is not about his assassination, but rather about a duel that Goebel had with a fellow named John Sandford, which followed Goebel throughout his career.
A True Account of the Famous Killing.
Malicious Misrepresentations Set at Rest by the Statement of Coroner Tarvin.A Clear Case of Self-Defense.
The Hartford Herald, Hartford, KY., Wednesday, October 11, 1899
A great deal of talk has been indulged is about the killing of Mr. John Sanford by Senator Goebel several years ago, and a number of people have essayed to state the case who were in no wise familiar with the facts. Senator Goebel has been pictured as a cold-blooded murderer, and many persons are under the impression that he shot Mr. Sandford down without any provocation whatever. The following statement will disabuse their minds of this fallacy. It was a most unfortunate affair from beginning to end, but not unlike many another difficulties in Eastern Kentucky, where feuds have been lamentably common and duels not a rare occurrence.
At the request of friends and in order to get a true statement of the difficulty between Sanford and Goebel, of which so much has been written and said, Mr. B.S. Morris, of Henderson, wrote W.W. Tarvin, then and now the coroner of Kenton county, asking him for the facts. Mr. Morris received from Coroner Tarvin the following reply:
“Office 912 Madison Avenue—Telephone No. 4050—Residence 114 E. Fifteenth street—Coroner of Kenton county, Ky., W.W. Tarvin, M.D.
“Covington, Ky., Sept 25, 1899.—BS. Morris, Esq.—Friend Buck: Yours of the 22d received and I’ll try to give you the information you desire, as you are correct in supposing that I was coroner at the time of the Sanford killing, and that I held the inquest in that case.
“I am unable to state the cause of the beginning of the enmity between Goebel and Sandford, as opinions differ widely. Some say it was because of a proxy at a convention; some that it was on account of the law Goebel had passed reducing the tolls of a turnpike in which Sandford was a stockholder; and some that it was because Goebel was instrumental in having the city funds removed from Sandford’s bank and deposited in another bank.
“At any rate, after the feeling first started, it grew steadily and the fact that some of Sandford’s closest friends where identified with the faction which always opposed Goebel, did not help matters any, and Sandford said that he would rather kill Goebel or be killed.
“But to come down to the actual cause of the killing. The daily Commonwealth had for several months been publishing articles ‘roasting’ Goebel at every opportunity, and Goebel was informed that John Sandford was the author of those articles. In fact, if I remember rightly, Goebel was shown the original copies, and they were in Sandford’s handwriting. At last, probably exasperated beyond endurance, Goebel wrote and caused to be published, in a little weekly sheet issued every Saturday, an article in which he referred to Sanford in several terms, and that was the immediate cause of the meeting.
“On the day of the encounter, about 1 o’clock, Goebel and W.J. Hendricks, at that time Attorney General, were coming up town together, and on Fifth street met Frank Helm, president of the First National bank, and as Hendricks wished to get a check cashed, they all three continued out Fifth and up Madison avenue toward the bank. As they came in the vicinity of the bank they saw John Sandford standing at the foot of the steps leading into the bank, with one foot on the lower step, and leaning upon the railing at one side. Sandford was leaning upon the railing with his left arm, with his right hand in his front pants pocket. The three (Goebel, Hendricks and Helm) came up to the foot of the steps and halted. Helm spoke to Sandford, who responded, and after a reminder from Helm, Sandford spoke to Hendricks, held out his left hand, with his right still in his pocket, and shook hands with him. Then, turning toward, Goebel, who was standing three or four feet from him, with his overcoat over his left arm and his right hand in his front pants pocket, Sandford said, ‘I understand that you assume the responsibility of that newspaper article.’
“Goebel answered promptly, ‘I do,’ whereupon Sandford withdrew his right hand from his pocket, holding a revolver, thrust it forward quickly toward Goebel’s abdomen and fired, the ball cutting through Goebel’s coat and lower edge of his vest. Goebel made one step backward, dropped his overcoat and withdrawing his hand (right) from his pocket, also holding a revolver, threw his band up and fired the first shot.
“My jury was composed of six good citizens, one an ex-sheriff (acting), one the principal of a district public school, and one who has since served a term as president of the board of aldermen and is now county assessor, and the other three were honest, reliable workingmen; and that jury brought in a verdict that the shot was fired by Goebel in self-defense.
“The county judge, a Republican, held a preliminary examination and discharged Goebel, as the evidence showed that Sanford had threatened to kill Goebel and had drawn and fired first. Two attempts were made to indict Goebel, but the grand juries refused to return true bills each time. Hoping this is a clear explanation of a very unfortunate matter, I will close with best regards. Yours truly,
“W.W. Tarvin, C.K.C., Ky.”